A black line. I nearly didn’t notice it. My sense of location in the exhibition shifted dramatically when I understood. This line demonstrates the height to which Alice grew. Consequently, in that moment, I shrank. Already I understood from the other works in this first room that I was somehow ‘in’ the text. However it was through Mel Bockner’s Measurement: Eye level Perimeter (ask Alice) that my sense of my own place and size as viewer shifted again. A very clever curation of works introduced me to the exhibition ‘Alice in Wonderland through the Visual Arts’.
More aware of the nature of my body within the space of the gallery, I climbed the stairs, looking forward to the next part of this exhibition which examines the influence of Alice in Wonderland on the visual arts. Extracts of text on the walls of the stairs took the form of concrete poetry written in perspective. Milder perceptual shifts, but again a clever conceit; a nod to the textual play in the book itself and a continuation of the slight disorientation of space and surface.
Reaching the fourth floor and the exhibition’s main focus, the effects of this hodological disorientation are allowed to disappear, this part of the exhibition reverts to a ‘glass case and pictures on the wall’ survey of material relating to Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and the Liddell sisters. The dark red wall colour and drapes though, hint at a theatrical and Victorian interior space, entirely appropriate for the displays of early copies of Alice, the original manuscript, photographs of the Liddell sisters and a wealth of Alice ephemera. As you progress through the labyrinthine space, the walls pale, and works become more recent; arranged in themes such as ‘Alice from the 1960’s’, ‘Alice Revisited’ and ‘Storytelling and Time’.
The analogy of being lost in time and space could continue, given that the exhibition is such a comprehensive survey of Alice related material, it requires a level of attention where ones experience of time slows. This though, was perhaps more a result of spending so long with such a variety of material rather than being the result of a curatorial device. However the catalogue ends by suggesting (referencing the authorhsip texts of Barthes and Foucault) that the power of the book lies in the fact that:
a reference to Alice can always be legitimately claimed whenever we, as the viewer, be it museum visitor, art critic, or exhibition curator, discern one and declare it to be so.
Containing works stretching from the original manuscript to recent works by Dan Graham, Gary Hill and Annelise Strba, the exhibition succeeded in not only developing, for me, a much deeper understanding of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as ‘gesamtkunstwerk’ but also the extent to which this story has become embedded in our consciousness. It introduced me to new ways of looking at works I was already familiar with, and showed me a range of work I had not encountered before. Alice in Wonderland runs at the Tate in Liverpool until 25 January 2012; I can thoroughly recommend it.